Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Careers In Printing

Printing is one of the most widely spread industries in the world; throughout each day, billions of tons of printed material is set to press, printed and shipped to customers. Printing is one of the few remaining "secure" blue collar trades in the United States, though even now, more printing work than ever is being outsourced to India and China and Malaysia than has ever been done before.

The reason printing remains stable is that the cost of shipping the raw materials is one of the major factors driving total profitability; the need to meet local demand in a timely manner is the other - having a seven week turnaround cycle isn't sufficient for a daily newsletter or running advertising circulars for most businesses. Most towns have at least one printer for every 30,000 to 40,000 residents.

So, now that we've established that there's a demand for printing, what kinds of jobs are there?

First, we need to differentiate between the two kinds of local printing businesses - there's digital printing and four color offset. Digital printing takes digital files and runs them through a machine like an HP Indigo, which is, for all intents and purposes, an incredibly high end laser printer. Offset printing breaks a printing job down into plates (one for each color, cyan, magenta, yellow and black - called CMYK), using carefully prepared mixes of inks - these plates are then set up in a press, and paper (on rolls, or large sheets) is run through the press.

Digital printing is best for short runs - the amount of effort needed to set up the job is lower. Offset is best for larger runs, because once the setup work has been done, the machinery just runs - indeed, starting and stopping the machine can cost more than letting it run for a few minutes longer.

Working in the printing industry, there are several jobs you'll do in a shop. Technicians and pressmen work on the equipment, loading paper, making sure that the machinery is working as intended. Dyers and ink specialists are sometimes used in larger offices that do offset work on clay coated (glossy) papers.

Beyond the back room people who work on the presses, there are other important jobs as well. Every printer needs an estimator; this is the person who takes the job from the client and works out exactly how much work is needed to do each step of the process, and what those materials costs will be - including the labor of the technician. It's also the job of the estimator to ask for clarifications in the client's request.

The client will interface with their printing rep; the printing representative is the person who prepares the estimates and bids from the estimator, and liases with the client to make sure that the files are turned in, and that the specifications are hammered down. The print rep has to communicate the concerns from the estimator to the client and back to make sure everyone's printing to the same sheet of job specifications.

Once the files have been turned in, there's also the pre-press operators - these take the client's files and manipulate them using a process called RIP into offset ready files - they generate color separations, with computer programs, and specify inks and PANTONE colors. The pre-press operators are the ones that work at the graphic workstations at the office and are the likeliest workers there to need a college degree.

Once the files have been pre-press checked, the print scheduler puts the job in the queue; her job is to make sure that the presses are running for as long as possible with the fewest interruptions and delays, so she tries to get every job lined up and scheduled to maximize the amount of printing that can be done in each day. She's also responsible for getting the first proofs back to the client rep, so the client can see how their job will run. A strong sense of organization and time management is critical to this position.

Lastly, at the end of the print job are the people who use the trimmers and warehousing equipment to cut and trim print jobs, and pack them into cartons for shipping to the client's needs - it's at this stage that steps like lamination or aqueous coatings are applied.

As you can see, running a print shop requires a lot of people to do their jobs to make the client happy; it's a lot of work, under tight, demanding schedules and requires organizational skills and communications ability. It's also a lot of fun once you're into the work. Search, post, and find jobs, online jobs, and hot jobs at

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